Monday, October 16, 2006

Clichés: Creative Writing Killers

Few things kill your writing more quickly than overuse of clichés. Don’t know what I mean? Try this:

The woman’s hair was black as midnight. Her face was smooth as silk, but her fear had turned her white as a sheet, making her ruby-red lips stand out in stark contrast. Her eyes were as blue as a summer’s sky, and they pleaded with him not to dash her hopes. She’d tried to play it dumb, but now he could tell she was smart as a whip.

See how many clichés I used there? It was overdone, of course, but it gives you an idea of how dull clichés can make your writing.

How to Identify a Cliché

Chances are, if you’ve heard or seen the phrase before, it’s a cliché. If you’re not sure, though, you can go to a website like and type in a keyword (you may need to try more than one).

Since I have a cat, I typed in the word “cat” as a keyword. Here are just a few of the clichés that came up:

Raining cats and dogs
There’s more than one way to skin a cat
Let the cat out of the bag
Fat cat
Cat’s meow
Cat’s pajamas
Cat got your tongue?
Busy as a cat on a hot tin roof
All cats are grey in the dark
Nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs
Curiosity killed the cat
Look what the cat dragged in
The cat who swallowed the canary
Not enough room to swing a cat
When the cat's away, the mice will play

How to Rid Yourself of Clichés

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get rid of clichés. The reason they are clichés to begin with is that they describe things so darn well! The only antidotes to clichés are thoughtfulness and originality—neither one easy to develop if it doesn’t come naturally. The only way to develop those traits is to practice. Look at things from all angles. Use all your senses. Look at the world around you for new comparisons. For a start, you might try reading through a thesaurus to synonyms of some of the words in the cliché. It won’t be easy, but it will become easier as you practice—and your writing will show the results of your hard work.

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